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What Business Leaders Can Learn From Camp Counselors

moonbeam leading singing


Think back to the carefree days of summer camp. Remember the excitement of meeting your counselor? If a counselor jumped into an icy-cold creek, it’s likely the rest of the campers followed. A majority of the camp experience correlated to the counselor’s attitude and behavior. The leadership style of camp counselors transfers over to the business world.  

 Camp counselors display leadership. They are the ones saying, “Let’s get this cabin cleaned up so we win the Pink Flamingo award!” Yes, the familiar “Management by Walking Around” has its merit. Yet it also takes a leader to make suggestions, set an example and actually do something to inspire employees. As a professional speaker, I frequently work with business groups. As part of the program, groups of 4-6 employees are assigned an activity they need to accomplish within a designated time period. Some groups, repeatedly ask each other, “How do we want to do this?” “Anyone have any ideas?” “What is the best way to present this material?” They’re so busy making sure they are a “team” that no one takes a leadership role. The time to share their activity comes and the group tells me they couldn’t decide what to do. Someone with camp counselor leadership would encourage some discussion, and then say, “Look, we have seven minutes to do this task. Jeff and Marion, can you make the chart? Who wants to be the spokesperson for our group?”

 Camp counselors encourage risk taking. It’s a good thing mothers aren’t at camp to see their children harnessed on a zip line zooming across a canyon. Instead of telling children, “be careful”, camp counselors are yelling, “You can do it!” Way to go!” Counselors encourage risk taking. Job seekers at Microsoft are frequently asked, “What kind of risks did you take on your last job? What did you learn from that experience?” Microsoft looks for people willing to take a risk, knowing it could result in a new product or service. When someone has a new idea, can they bring it to you directly, or do they feel the need to submit the idea anonymously to the suggestion box? Are brainstorming sessions at work met with, “That will never work!”? Show staff you are willing to take risks also. Share your new ideas to improve customer service or cut production costs. Jimmy Johnson, a coach for the Dallas Cowboys said “Do you want to be safe and good, or do you want to take a chance and be great?”

 Camp Counselors are fun! When a counselor is placidly floating in an inner tube, only to be tipped by a group of ten-year-olds, what does he do? A camp counselor laughs, spits water from his mouth and begins dunking all the campers within reach. The water churns with flailing arms, tipped inner tubes and peals of laughter. For the next week, campers giggle and say, “Wasn’t that cool how we snuck up behind Steven and tipped him from the inner tube?” The group has a lasting bond, knowing they shared a fun experience together. I’ve worked with groups where office assistants weren’t allowed to have coffee or any liquid on their desks because the boss felt they might spill something on important papers. When I asked them what would make it fun to come to work, the overwhelming answer was, “We’d love to just have a cup of coffee on our desks.” (Brings back visions of the office policy in the popular movie “9 to 5”, doesn’t it?) Having fun at work doesn’t mean wearing red noses and blowing kazoos. How about a bulletin board devoted to staff pets? People love bringing in pictures of their new cat or their beloved Rover wearing a pointed party hat. Give out simple awards such as a Good and Plenty candy bar to someone for always having plenty of good ideas. Celebrate some untraditional holidays such as National Bubble Wrap Day or Ugly Tie Day. A bit of fun and light-hearted humor goes a long way to increasing employee productivity and morale.

 Next time you are looking to improve your leadership skills, why not invite a college student who was a camp counselor last summer to lunch? Have them share their insight in how they manage to inspire, educate and motivate groups of energetic children. The counselor’s tips might help you inspire, educate and motivate your staff.


 No-Calorie, Creative, School Fund Raisers
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Every parent has experienced the dread that comes with their child announcing a school or sports team fund raiser. Parents find themselves helping their child  hawk containers of high-caloric cookie dough…or skimpy rolls of wrapping paper…or calendars they’ll never use…or magazine subscriptions to Bee Keeper Gazette. How about suggesting the school or team try a few innovative fund raising ideas? The following ideas are creative ways to raise money for your specific program.

 Teachers Lip Sync Extravaganza: Teachers are often hesitant to perform in traditional talent shows. Performing in a lip sync act requires only exaggerated, outlandish stage presence, not talent. Charge admission for families to come watch teachers and staff as they display their talents playing air guitars and prancing around in swimsuits, carrying surfboards and lip syncing to songs such as California Girls.

 Decorate A Toilet! Many cities have businesses pay to decorate life size cows or pigs, which are then displayed throughout the community. Why settle for decorating a traditional animal statue? Encourage businesses to pay to be corporate sponsors for the chance to get a toilet destined for the dump. Each business receives a clean, yet used toilet,(available from most recycling centers) which they decorate. On a designated day, collect the artistically decorated toilets and set up makeshift bowling lanes. Community members pay to view the toilets and pay extra to roll a bowling ball down the lane and smash the toilets. Just think. Your organization gets money when businesses buy a toilet and then additional money as people pay to destroy the toilet with a bowling ball!

Get Paid to Collect Used Shoes: 300 million children around the world are without a pair of shoes. Teach your children how to help others while also raising money for their school or organization. Collecting used shoes for Funds2Orgs helps keep shoes out of landfills. Students get paid to collect used shoes, which are then used by micro-enterprises in Haiti, Guatemala, and other developing countries. Your student’s efforts help put a pair of shoes on the feet of someone in an impoverished area of the world, while helping their school. Contact

All American Pet Fashion Show: Americans are spending billions of dollars on jeweled collars and personalized raincoats for their pets. Sponsor a pet fashion show where pet owners pay you to participate. For added interest get the mayor of your community or a local celebrity to “model” along with their pet. Any pet store would be glad for the publicity that comes with paying to be a “corporate sponsor” and promote their products. Planning is simple: Pet stores pay to be a sponsor, people pay to walk the runway with their adorable dog, cat, ferret, miniature horse, etc, and people pay admission to attend the event. All you need is a gym with a runway and a few pooper scoopers on hand!



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